UPDATE: It looks like the Denver Post editorial board agrees with us. In an editorial today they say “the secretary of state is right to update state campaign finance rules to exempt small issue groups spending $5,000 or less.”
Colorado Ethics Watch (CEW) and Colorado Common Cause (CCC), two liberal groups who don't disclose their donors, have sued Secretary of State Scott Gessler over rule changes he made regarding issue committee donor disclosure. Once you get past the irony of this situation, you realize how little merit the actual junk lawsuit possesses.
ColoradoPols coverage of the issue sells it as Gessler eliminating a disclosure requirement right before primaries, as if Gessler was secretly trying to make it easier to fit undisclosed money into messy primary campaigns. We'll get to what the rule change really amounted to, and the legal impetus for the rule change in a minute, but first we have to say the mischaracterization doesn't even fit within the stereotype of Gessler as party hack that Pols has been pushing since he was elected. Republicans have lost much more than Democrats from messy primaries, and if Gessler was such a party apparatchik he wouldn't want to push rules that allow primaries to become even messier with anonymously funded attacks. So, to whomever was running Pols while Alan Franklin was out of town, you might want to read the playbook before you run such an off message hit piece.
The real reason for the rule change was the ruling in the court case Sampson vs. Buescher. If CEW and CCC had bothered to read the announcement of the rule changes, which they gave public comment on, they would have realized the real reason behind the change. But these two liberal groups have never let facts get in the way of a good rant or junk lawsuit.
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Sampson vs. Buescher was about an issue committee of citizens in Parker, CO who opposed an annexation by the city. They spent almost $2000 on behalf of their cause, but never filed reports with the SOS office on their disbursements. They were fined for not reporting, but sued over the fines, claiming their first amendment rights were violated and a three-judge panel from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. The panel held the Colorado law that forces issue committees who raise or spend more than $200 to file reports was an unconstitutionally low threshold. Once you realize the facts behind the rule change, plus are aware of the fact that Gessler held public hearings seeking comment which CCC and CEW testified at, you realize how much of a junk lawsuit the groups actually filed.
After seeking public comment, where we noticed CCC and CEW didn't express a desire to have rules that require them to disclose their own donors, Gessler changed the rule to raise the threshold for issue committee reporting to $5,000. Anyone who has ever worked on a campaign beyond dog catcher realizes that $5,000 is jack squat. If you spend less than that you won't be doing much. You can't even fund a decent mail piece for $5,000.
So basically, Gessler made a small rule change, after seeking public input, to comply with a ruling by a federal judge. CCC, CEW, and Pols take that to mean he was trying to get rid of financial disclosure. Nice spin, but the facts are standing in the way ever so slightly.
All in all, Gessler has not been a messaging maestro since taking office. We'll be the first to admit he sometimes can be inarticulate in expressing himself, setting himself up as a target to be attacked by liberals. But when groups like CEW, who make their living off of filing junk lawsuits against conservatives, pull BS like this we feel it's important to set the record straight. Plus, we can't help but point out the blinding irony of groups who don't disclose their donors suing over donor disclosure requirements.
Disclosure for thee, but not for me.